My son plays high school basketball. During the fall of 2020, his freshman year, his high school made the difficult decision to cancel most of their season due to the pandemic.
Because he would be missing a full year of his high school career, my son went to his coach and asked what drills he should work on, what workouts he could do, etc., to maximize his development.
His coach provided some helpful workouts but left him with this overarching message:
“The best thing you can do is just go play. Play as much as you can, wherever you can, against whoever you can. That’s how you’ll get better.”
Come to think of it, we learn to do or make decisions about a lot of “life critical” stuff primarily through trial and error and by doing.
Walking as a toddler. Choosing a partner or mate. Parenting. Choosing a favorite music genre. Deciding on a specific career path – just to identify a few.
Learning by doing is a well-researched and effective pedagogical approach. Yes, more direct, passive instruction can also assist us with getting better at something. But, it’s hard to beat personal and consistent engagement in the task if we want to get really good.
Becoming the best development professional each of us can be won’t happen because our printed case for support is back from the printer and is ready to go. It won’t happen because we attended conferences on “asking for the gift.” It won’t happen because we know everything possible about all the people, programs, priorities, and history about our institution. It won’t happen because we listened to the stories of those on our team who have done it well for years.
Although all of these ways of learning can be helpful.
To be the best in this work we can be, though, it’s important for us to visit with as many donors as we can. To ask as many good questions as we can. To listen and respond. To invite gifts. To stumble and miss opportunities. To receive gifts we weren’t expecting.
To be our best, we need to actively do the work ourselves.
“Just go play.”